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Contemporary dance is challenging the perception on robots

18 September 2017

The V&A museum played host to a unique performance that used contemporary dance and cutting-edge technology to change the public perception on robots.


Called Slave/Master, the live performance was part of the London Design Festival and Digital Design Week at the Victoria & Albert Museum. It brought together a host of automation technology, software and engineering support from the likes of Rockwell Automation, Adelphi Automation, KUKA Robotics, SCM Handling and Autodesk. The concept, costumes and production were devised by London-based studio BR Innovation Agency, with projection graphic technology and creative support from Holition and dancers and choreography from the London Contemporary Ballet Theatre.

Designed to challenge the common fear surrounding robotic technology, the performance featured two dancers interacting and moving around two sets of KUKA robotic arms whilst they were in motion. Performing together by a score from composer Rupert Cross, the dancers started off by curiously moving towards the robots, quickly changing to more frantic movements and domination as they revelled in their ability to influence and control the robots’ movements. 

Paul Davis, Solutions Architect – architecture & software – Rockwell Automation said “the biggest challenge was setting up the safety system to allow the public to move around and through the exhibition space while the robots were in operation.” Rockwell Automation’s Compact GuardLogix safety automation controllers and SafeZone Mini safety laser scanners were used to combat this. Paul continues: “The scanners will detect when humans are too close and send a signal to the controller which will either slow or stop the robots depending on the proximity of the person.”

Paul Stout, Managing Director, Adelphi Automation explained “we integrate more and more industrial applications that require deeper interaction between robots and humans and the challenges of this project are not unlike those in industry, albeit we don’t usually install robots for their dance moves! In all seriousness though, we believe Slave/Master will help the public to understand something other than the dystopian view of robots in popular culture, and show how modern safety systems and smart robotics mean that human interaction in the industrial space has moved on from caged robot arms moving large parts, to a much more collaborative approach.” 

Projected graphics were also on display in the background, representing a window into the ‘souls’ of the robots. Using data from the movement and urgency of the robot performers, evolving 3D shapes were formed, with overlaid silhouettes representing memories of past interactions with humans, to portray the robots ‘mood’ to the audience, ranging from calmly ordered images to more frantic violent forms at the height of the robots’ discomfort. 

Slave/Master at the V&A

Friday, 15th – Sunday, 24th September 2017

10.00 – 17.30

The Raphael Gallery

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